I remember reading that Amano often reflected on memories of his childhood when he would design his layouts. I decided to take Amano's approach as advice. Even if this meant taking a break from aquascaping.
A Little Background
You see I wanted to return to my childhood roots of exploring herpetology. I used to look for lizards, frogs, snakes, newts and other reptiles and amphibians. I also kept many of them as pets and spent countless hours researching, drawing, and even writing about them. Other kids thought I was weird. They were right.
As an adult twenty something I happened to fall in love with aquascaping after seeing a Tree scape by Filipe Oliveira. I think anyone who has ever googled aquascaping has seen it but in case you haven't just google: Filipe Oliveira tree.
Oliveira has built many tree scapes some of which blossom with brilliant red ludwigia! But my favorite is his impressive, Pinheiro Manso, link: Aquascape of the Month: September 2008 "Pinheiro Manso" | AquaScaping World Forum
. I love the way the tree dominates the tank and grabs hold of your attention. To me its more beautiful than a real bonsai because it actually has life swarming around it like a miniature world.
After being inspired by Oliveira's scapes I decided to take the plunge. However, I chose not to make it an aquascape, but a terrascape (a strangely uncommonly used term). I thought to combine my love for the aquascaping style and my love of herpetology to create something that reflected my own life experiences.
I have read in blogs that Amano's fish in his diorama style designs worked not only to emphasize the scale of a layout but also to act as a metaphor for flocking birds. After researching many species to fit the design I wanted I discovered the tiger salamander, more specifically Ambystoma mavortium. I wanted my salamander to work as a metaphor for a dragon, or perhaps even a prehistoric creature. I hesitate to use the word dinosaur, but that is what I'm aiming for.
Aquascape vs. Vivarium
If you look at aquascapes and vivariums there seems to be a stark contrast in styles. Vivariums tend to have elaborate backdrops with a plethora of plant species. Aquascapes tend to have seemingly
simple designs with only a select few types of plants. Both styles have their own strengths. But what really bewilders me is that the two styles vary so greatly and rarely seem to borrow from one another.
So with that said, I thought it might interesting to bring a little aquascaping to the vivarium. First with my salamander iwagumi vivarium and now with my "Dragon Bonsai".
This tank consists of locally collected moss. After keeping moss in a miniature glass terrarium next to my planted aquarium for over a year I thought it might look good on a much larger scale. After collecting the moss it was washed and quarantined for a week in observance for any pests the moss might be harboring.
As I was planting my carpet, I couldn't help but wonder how much time and money I was saving if I was attempting to do this as an aquascape. I can't tell you what a great sense of satisfaction I felt seeing a completed carpet in one day--and for free!
The "bonsai" in this scape is simply driftwood. The "trunk" is screwed into slate. The slate solidly sits upon a plastic tupperware which acts to raise the trunk of the tree up and works as a hidden cave for my salamander (there is a large hole drilled into it). As for the top part of the tree the "branches" of the driftwood are covered in a plastic sheet then topped in soil and then moss. I tried to add as much soil as I could without it spilling over in order to add some dimension to the canopy of the tree.
Substrate: EcoEarth covered over material mesh, then a gravel drainage layer.
(1)My tiger salamander: (Ambystoma mavortium), is a species that likes moist but not overly wet conditions. Perfect for terrestrial moss. According to caudata.org:
"Tiger salamanders do not drink water using their mouths. Rather they receive moisture and hydration from the water content of prey and from the environment through their semi-permeable skin. Skin absorption reinforces the need for a moist substrate at all times.
Therefore this eliminates the need for a water bowl which keeps with the simple aquascaping look.
(2)Collembella: These little hexapods act like the otocinclus catfish of the vivarium. However instead of eating algae they devour mold and help break down waste helping to keep the vivarium clean.
Full tank and salamander in action: